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Microsoft AI Achieves Highest Ms. Pac-Man Score Possible

The video game world recently witnessed Ms. Pac-Man history: For the first time, the game’s maximum score of 999,990 points has been reached. As Business Insider reports, the landmark wasn’t achieved by a competitive gamer but rather an AI algorithm owned by Microsoft.

After the AI start-up Maluuba was acquired by Microsoft in January, one of their first orders of business was developing a system capable of running through the Atari 2600 version of Ms. Pac-Man with more efficiency than any human player. To do this, they set up a program that rewarded the AI for completing different tasks like dodging ghosts and eating fruit. Each accomplishment was assigned a certain value, allowing the algorithm to prioritize problems as they arose. You can learn more about the strategy behind the win in the video below.

The game ended when Ms. Pac-Man racked up 999,990 points, the highest number the game can reach before resetting to zero. According to highscore.com, the previous Atari 2600 Ms. Pac-Man record of 266,330 belonged to a man from Brazil. Though it isn’t the most popular version of the title, researchers chose to play on the Atari 2600 game because the console has become standard for AI projects across the field. The maximum score on the original Ms. Pac-Man game, however, is still up for grabs.

[h/t Business Insider]

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People With Limited Mobility Can Now Use Amazon Alexa to Control Exoskeletons
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Mario Tama, Getty Images

One of the challenges that comes with engineering exoskeletons that compensate for limited mobility is giving control to the people who wear them. Some systems use hand controls, while others can detect faint signals in the wearer’s muscles and respond accordingly. Now one exoskeleton startup is taking advantage of a technology that’s become mainstream in recent years: voice recognition.

As Engadget reports, Bionik Laboratories has integrated Amazon’s Alexa into its ARKE lower-body exoskeleton. The apparatus is designed for people with spinal chord damage or a history of stroke or traumatic brain injury that has hindered their movement below the waist. After strapping into the suit, wearers will now be able to use it just as they would a television set or stereo enabled with Alexa. Saying “Alexa, I’m ready to stand,” brings the joints to an upright position, and the command “Alexa, I’m ready to walk” prompts the legs to move forward. An Amazon Echo device must be within hearing range for the voice control to work, so in its current state the exoskeleton is only good for making short trips within the home.

Compatibility with Alexa isn’t the only modern feature Bionik worked into the design. The company also claims that ARKE is the first exoskeleton with integrated tablet control. That means if users wish to adjust their suit manually, they can do so by typing commands into a wireless touchpad. The tablet also records information that physical therapists can use to make more informed decisions when treating the patient.

Before the ARKE suit can be made available to consumers, it must first undergo clinical trials and receive approval from the FDA. If the tests go as planned Bionik hopes to have a commercial version of the product ready by 2019.

[h/t Engadget]

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Including Smiley Emojis in Your Work Emails Could Make You Look Incompetent
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If you’re looking to give your dry work emails some personality, sprinkling in emojis may not be the smartest strategy. As Mashable reports, smiley emojis in professional correspondences rarely convey the sentiments of warmth that were intended. But they do make the sender come across as incompetent, according to new research. For their paper titled "The Dark Side of a Smiley," researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel looked at 549 subjects from 29 countries. After reading emails related to professional matters, participants were asked to judge the "competence and warmth" of the anonymous sender. Emails that featured a smiley face were found to have a "negative effect on the perception of competence." That anti-emoji bias led readers to view the actual content of those emails as less focused and less detailed than the messages that didn’t include emojis. Previous research has shown that sending emojis to people you’re not 100 percent comfortable with is always a gamble. That’s because unlike words or facial expressions, which are usually clear in their meanings, the pictographs we shoot back and forth with our phones tend to be ambiguous. One study published last year shows that the same emoji can be interpreted as either positive or negative, depending on the smartphone platform on which it appears. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to communicate effectively without leaning on emojis to make you look human. Here are some etiquette tips for making your work emails sound clear and competent. [h/t Mashable]

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